Let’s be clear, I was underprepared for this half marathon.
Let’s be clear about this also, I wasn’t so much concerned.
I had been planning to do a few fall half marathons, focusing on the distance because it’s challenging enough to keep my endurance attention and short enough to make it easier to get in long runs with some semblance of sanity, particularly in my topsy-turvy ever-changing world that is my work schedule.
This race, the Oak Tree Half Marathon, was being held in Geneseo (the greater Rochester, N.Y. area for those not in the 716 or the 585). One hundred precent of the race profits went to the Genesee Valley Conservancy, an organization that works to conserve natural resources including wildlife habitats, working farms and forest lands. That is right up my alley. Oh, and the finisher’s medal was hand made by a local artist. How cool is that?
I figured it would be a fun, challenging race and that my boyfriend Scott and I could make a little Labor Day weekend out of it by going up the day before and doing a short, easy hike at Letchworth State Park. This was never meant to be a “performance goal” race. And as race day got closer, it clearly was not going to be one.
My training had been OK, but I had gotten off my training plan because, well, I’m not real sure. There was life and work and some work travel. There was an ache in my right knee which had me concerned about pushing too hard or too far. There was trying to cram as much of summer into summer as possible, and some days a 7-mile tempo run just didn’t fit into that.
As race week approached, I decided on my goals. There were just two: 1. Run with gratitude. 2. Finish free of injury.
That’s it. That’s all there was. That was my focus and I focused on those two things, with an emphasis on gratitude, for a week. I was confident I could finish 13.1 miles, although I wasn’t sure in what time frame. I was less confident about the elevation profile of the course which I knew was no joke and which I knew was the primary weakness in my training plan, which had already been off the rails for three weeks.
Saturday Scott and I drove to Letchworth and hiked just over 4 miles on the Finger Lakes Trail from the Mt. Morris Dam. (P.S. We are so going back.) It was a beautiful day and a beautiful trail. Time spent in the woods put me in a good mental state. I was ready for whatever came on race day, including the 90 percent chance of rain that my weather app had been predicting for days.
Sunday morning I ran into my friends Sue and Heather at the start line. They said they’d run with me. Internally I laughed since Heather’s “really easy, laid-back pace” would constitute my PR in most cases. But no, she was determined to be the course sweeper for her friends. And Sue had already done a bunch of races that weekend, so I was confident she was tired enough where I could stay with her.
It was a smooth operation from start to finish and a very well-run race. The course was well-marked. The aid stations were where they said they would be and they were well stocked and full of energetic, cheering faces. (Special thanks to whatever group was at the top of the hill before Mile 12. I could hear you guys for half a mile and it gave me hope!)
The course starts on a downhill and we kept our pace easy as a light drizzle started. We ran from Geneseo Central School to downtown Geneseo, then turned around and came right back up the hill. It gave me a chance to wave to Scott and my parents (who were celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary, because nothing says 45 years of marriage as sitting in the rain waiting for your eldest child to run 13.1 miles). Two miles down. Cool.
Shortly after we turned onto a dirt and gravel road for a long, generous downhill. It was absolutely beautiful. I was grateful for the cloudy and slightly rainy day, which was much preferred to having sun beating down on me on open, country roads. We passed massive oak trees and farms and the road was rolling. And rolling. And rolling a bit more. I’m not sure if any part of the course was actually flat. Which meant a good challenge indeed.
Shortly after Mile 5 I had a slight emotional breakdown. Where that came from, I have no idea. I was in a great mindset to start. My body was feeling OK. The course was beautiful. People were nice. My friends were no more than 30 seconds ahead of me. But as I power walked up the top of a rolling hill, I had a brief cry. It felt like a crisis of confidence, a wave of it passing over me. At the next water stop, which came quickly, I told Sue and Heather about it. We talked about running for a few minutes, about how we love it, about what it brings us, about all that it means outside of the watch. Mentally, I was back in the game.
(Side note: Heather hypothesized that the sugar hit from my gel at Mile 5 caused me to have that brief, but intense, emotional reaction. I never thought of that. Sounds like a plausible possibility. Any nutrition specialists have any input on that?)
The course was a big box and after a brief stint on a paved road we were back on the dirt and gravel. It wasn’t “trail” running, but it was off-road and it wasn’t until after the race when I realized how muddy I had gotten. But I was enjoying every minute of it, even with the anticipation of the upcoming hill.
Yes, the entire course was hilly but this was the killer. It started about Mile 10.5 and finished just before hitting Mile 12. It was up. And up. And up. There were a few spots where it leveled off, but mostly we were all just climbing. I started power walking just before the Mile 11 marker and had no bad feelings about it. This was long and steep in places. On the more level parts, I jogged. Then I power walked, because frankly my walk was faster than my run so why burn out my lungs when I would need them for the last mile?
This was where I lost Sue and Heather and knew I would. I could see Sue ahead of me, walking herself. This? This was no joke.
Once off the dirt road, it was a straight shot back to the school. I was able to get moving at pretty good clip. The course then turns downhill toward the school with the finish about three-quarters of a lap on the track. I asked the track team, standing at the entrance, if the track was downhill or if it had an incline. One guy laughed. I thanked him for laughing. Not everyone gets my humor. Especially the humor that comes out of my mouth after 13 miles.
I waited to sprint until I rounded the corner with the finish line in my sight ready to receive my medal and a souvenir cup filled with Gatorade.
What an amazing race.
Let’s check back on my goals. No injuries so check that box. As far as running with gratitude? I opened myself to what the day brought me — hills, rain, some mud, beautiful scenery, amazing old oak trees. I walked when I needed to. I cried when I needed to. I didn’t dwell on questions or ask why or try to analyze. I just went with came up for me.
And I fell in love with running all over again.